April 2021
Ontario Ombudsman on Open Meetings

2021-04-30 1:14:45 PM


Even though municipal meetings this past year have been anything but normal, it is important to remember that open meeting requirements still apply, including providing notice of meetings to the public, maintaining meeting minutes and continuing to hold meetings that are open to the public.  

With this in mind, we are highlighting a couple of recent reports from the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman which may be of interest as you consider your own open meeting procedures and the continued education of staff and council, committee and local board members on this topic.  

Sequential meetings and quorum 

The first has to do with the definition of a “meeting” under the Municipal Act, 2001. The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that on June 15, 2020 a quorum of councillors for the Town of Hawkesbury discussed council business that would be introduced and voted on at a council meeting the following day, and that this amounted to a “meeting” closed to the public contrary to the Act.  

In this case, the Ombudsman found that the Town did not violate the Act, because though the Mayor met with a quorum of members of council, the meetings were done with individuals sequentially as opposed to one meeting made up of a quorum of members.  

For this reason, the Ombudsman found that the conduct is not technically prohibited by the Act’s closed meeting provisions; however, he stated that the government may wish to clarify if these kinds of arrangements are contrary to open meeting provisions.  

When livestream goes down 

This report is related to a public livestream of a meeting held by the LGBT Advisory Committee for the City of Hamilton. In this case, the Ombudsman received a complaint that the Committee held a virtual meeting on October 20, 2020 that was not open to the public, as the complainant alleged that during the virtual meeting the livestream went down for 23 minutes and the meeting continued.  

The Ombudsman found that the while the meeting was closed unintentionally, the Committee was aware that the livestream had failed and chose to continue to meet anyway.  

The Ombudsman recommended that all members of the LGBT Advisory Committee should be vigilant in adhering to their obligations to ensure compliance with the Municipal Act and the procedure by-law. He also recommended that the City review its policy for the conduct of virtual meetings and that staff and committee members receive training on the policy’s content, especially the steps to be taken if technical issues prevent public attendance during a meeting.  

Resources  

The Office of the Ontario Ombudsman has an Open Meetings Guide for Municipalities which may be helpful as you consider some of these topics in your own municipality. They also have an Open Meeting Case Digest, which allows users to search the Ombudsman’s investigations of open meeting complaints.  

AMCTO also developed a guide, published in collaboration with MISA last the summer:  Electronic Council, Committee and Board Meetings Guide for Ontario Municipalities (2nd edition). See also MMAH’s Info Sheet on Electronic Participation in Municipal Meetings


 


Comments
Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.